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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Sometimes you’ve got to get back to your roots. The evolution of design, fashion, music, culture and most definitely food, is both inevitable and fantastic; but despite being all for the progress of useful arts I still feel that taking a step back in time is necessary for any scholar. To fully appreciate the present, one must acknowledge generations past. As you may well know, Los Angeles has extremely rich history when it comes to burgers. Though widely recognized for the first time in 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair, the burger’s plight to become an American staple really began in 1940, when the McDonald Brothers opened their first restaurant in San Bernardino. I’ll spare you a thorough history lesson, but the result is a local landscape sprinkled with burger joints that have been around since before there was such thing as disco. (If you fancy further reading, the Wikipedia page for Hamburgers is pretty informative. Also, the beginning of “Fast Food Nation” has tons of interesting facts about how and why California became the burger hub it is, but read past the 2nd chapter at your own peril. Fast food is nasty). There actually is a reason I am talking about this, and it is called Pie ‘N Burger.

Nestled behind a lush hedge on California Blvd., Pie ‘N Burger is the dividing line between residences and the small businesses of Pasadena. Having opened its doors in 1963, it appears to have not changed much if at all since, at least based on what I imagine it to have looked like fifty years ago. Reportedly the menu’s modifications are negligible as well, including but not limited to the Chili Dog, which was hand painted at some point in its own little bubble on a menu board old enough to have seen us through nine Presidents. The menu is neither sparse nor overwhelming (as menus can sometimes be at diner style restaurants), but how many or few items it boasts is functionally irrelevant. You go for the pie, and you go for the burger.

Naturally, the general vibe of this place combined with its menu and the overwhelming praise thereof had my inner fat kid squealing with delight, and ostensibly over-ordering. I had the pie (2 of them actually) and the burger, and fries and a chocolate malt. Total overkill, but generally fantastic. The malt was entertaining but way too sweet; it was literally syrupy. Describing a milkshake as too sweet may seem oxymoronic but it really was excessive to the point I could only drink a little of it, and the meal’s singular weak link.

The burger however, couldn’t have been further from weak, and I had a delightful revelation while describing it. I intended to identify Pie ‘N Burger’s burger as Southern Cali style (Oinkster, In N Out, TK’s, etc.) minus the tomato, when I realized that that happens to refer to the exact same components that a Big Mac possesses. Mind BLOWN. Juicy beef, lettuce, pickles, onion, 1000 Island, and American cheese make this burger comfortable and familiar, but shine in a way that McDonalds food likely hasn’t since the days of its inception, if ever. It was hearty and sloppy, but manageable and oh so delicious. Despite having numerous edible distractions, I don’t recall setting this burger down before it was gone. An order of fries was plenty for 2 people, and the likelihood of engagement in conversation with a Pie ‘N Burger evangelist was high, though unequivocally enjoyable.

Yet another of Pie ‘N Burger’s dependable joys is predictably the first half of its name, pie. I had the boysenberry and the pecan, but there were a slew of other traditional pies available, and while none really test boundaries in terms of what a pie can be or do, each is probably about as good a version of that type of pie as one could ever possibly find. The pecan pie was really rich but somehow not too sweet, and the pecans on top were soft rather than over-candied (which is really hard to do, if you’ve never made one). The only reason I can’t rank it number 1 is because I am privileged enough to have a Southern Mom. The boysenberry though, was the best boysenberry pie I’ve tasted. Simple and perfect. Simple, and perfect.

Bougie burger fans, this place does not have what you’re used to. I liken your burgers to the stunningly attractive French girl who makes smoking and being bad at dancing somehow look good, and who has you wishing you’d actually gotten into contemporary art in college. Well this burger is her dad, the All American football hero who decided to make Paris his home after being stationed on an Air Force base there during the Vietnam War. He’s parted his hair the same way for half a century and get’s up at 5:25a.m. no matter what day it is. He says polite things to strangers and is never without an appropriate grandfatherly metaphor like “you can’t pay someone to do your pushups for you!” At a glance, you might overlook just how charming this guy really is, but get to know him. You’ll appreciate his daughter so much more once you have.

– Geoff Sawyer

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First and foremost, I would like to apologize for how dark these photos are. The Parish is mostly lit by candlelight and while this makes everyone very attractive, it’s disastrous for taking photos.

I was lured to the Parrish for two reasons. The first being it had a $17 burger. That’s right. Seventeen whole smackeroos for a burger. This I had to try. Gourmet burgers are by and large pricey, but never more than 12 or 14 bucks. When you hit $17 you’re basically saying “This is the best damn burger you can buy! How do I know? Because you’re going to pass up buying a steak frites at a respectable restaurant for a burger.” When your burger costs as much as that, it better make you writhe with pleasure.

Reason number two is a sillier one. The fact of the matter is that British gastropubs are becoming a thing in Los Angeles and whenever a new one opens  as a half British person I feel it is my duty to try all of their sticky toffee puddings. Every single one. (By the way, if you are a gastropub and there is no sticky toffee pudding on your menu, you’re doing it wrong.)

The Parish is located in Downtown where Main St. splits and gives birth to Spring St. It is wedged so tightly between the two it’s shaped like a slice of pie. They have a downstairs patio, but we were ushered upstairs to the main restaurant. Let me tell you they had a perfect blend of British and Angeleno elements upstairs. There was a dead pheasant hanging over a Spanish tiled fireplace. There were overstuffed leather chairs pulled up to dark wood tables. The walls were covered with busy English wall paper patterns and a giant map of downtown LA. It was lovely if super dark.

The bar is tended by gentlemen poached from Seven Grand, so the drinks were delightful. The menu was whimsical and expensive. Three deviled eggs were $6! (Worth the investment though.) To start my roommate and I had an array of scrumptious things: deviled eggs covered in chili sauce, beet salad with sharply tart molasses yogurt and wheatberries, ripe peaches and green beans covered in burrata cheese,  and most decadently of all, a rich chicken liver mousse with sherry toast and onion rings. That’s right onion rings WITH chicken liver mousse. It was scrumptious.

Finally the big moment arrived and they put the burger down in front of me. The description of it on paper was outrageous. It had epoisse, argula, and pickled carrots on it. For those of you who haven’t yet experienced epoisse, let me tell you, it’s one of the stinkiest cheeses known to man. Just a waft of it has known to fell men at twenty paces. Imagine a cheese that stunk of drains combined with pickled carrots on a burger. Gutsy, right? How could one possibly pass that up?

Turns out they spent so much time on the cheese, the pickled carrots, and the chiabatta bun, the Parish completely forgot to pay attention to the burger itself. The patty was chargrilled and too salty.  I expect that kind of patty at Burger King not a fancy pub.  It broke my heart.  It was like those hoodrat cars you see with expensive rims. It doesn’t matter what racing stripes you paint on a 1986 Ford Fiesta, it’s still a 1986 Ford Fiesta.

My faith in the place was restored with their sticky toffee pudding, which was warm and rich and golden. Honestly 90% of the meal was fantastic. I will be back Parish to try your meat pies and fried chicken, but there’s no way I’m getting your burger ever again. It seems to be your Achilles heel. The black hole on the otherwise stellar menu.

-Molly Bergen

 

Imitation. The sincerest form of flattery to some, punishable thievery to others. With regards to burgers, it stands to reason that there will be some recipe overlap- since there are thousands upon thousands of places to get one, and certain constructions that just work well. Dressing your burger the same way that In-N-Out dresses theirs does not make you a biter or imposter, it means that you know what’s good. However, some burger peddlers’ offerings are specifically familiar to such a degree that there is no denying the origin of their recipes. Fusion Burgers is an unapologetic example of exactly that.

Fusion Burgers began as an irrefutable Umami knock-off. A little background: Fusion Burgers of Highland park was opened by a father/son team who both used to cook at the Umami in Santa Monica, and I have seen references to the fact that they parted with Umami on undesirable terms (though I can’t find any legitimate corroborating evidence). The first menu that was issued for Fusion upon its grand opening was almost identical to Umami’s menu, down to design and layout. They must have either caught enough flack (or a cease and desist letter) to make them want to update it, because only weeks after opening, a new menu was released with slightly modified recipes, less obvious names, and different fonts. As has been addressed previously, we LOVE Umami. Before I ate at Fusion, I had basically already decided that I was going to like it, and would simply try to be accurately critical of just how unoriginal their entire dining experience is.

Upon walking in the door for the first time my sympathy level for Fusion skyrocketed, because the place is BUSTED. It looks more like an off-track betting station than a burger spot. A false wall separates a small kitchen from a small dinning area, and it doesn’t even reach the ceiling. The difference is made up with lattice. If you have it in your mind that these guys are attempting to compete with the incredibly design savvy Umami, your first impression of the interior will be so bad that it’s endearing. They only have seating for about 15, and you order and/or pay at a little window in that false wall by the front door, much like a window through which you would pick your lucky horse, and pass your cash. I took a seat with a menu and located Fusion’s version of Umami’s signature burger- the Parmigiano burger.

Since having dined at Fusion, the menu has undergone further subtle modification. At the time of my meal, the single difference between the ingredients of the Parmigiano burger and the Umami burger, were the sesame seeds on top of the bun. Now Fusion lists the ingredients balsamic onions, sun-dried (rather than oven dried) tomatoes, and the white truffle infused “house ketchup” is now nowhere to be found on the Fusion menu, though it was certainly on my burger. Shiitake mushrooms and the famous parmesan crisp are still very much amongst it all. The grind, seasoning, and flavor of the beef was (though perhaps not surprisingly) identical to Umami’s. The tomato, and bun as well had extremely reminiscent taste and texture. The biggest difference was that the mushrooms were more chewy than I have ever been served at Umami, surely because they use dried ones and do not reconstitute them as much. The chewy shiitakes were not a shortcoming though, they added an interesting textural layer to what would otherwise be all soft components.

Overall the Parmigiano burger was spectacular, and despite my rather accusatory tone up until this point, please note that Fusion Burgers’ lack of originality in no way equates to bad food. They do cheesy tots just as well as Umami does, the burgers are slightly bigger, and slightly cheaper too. I have also tried the Noir Burger (Umami’s Truffle Burger) and I think Fusion’s was actually better. The pinot noir sauce they use is positively stellar. The only real bummer about Fusion’s menu is the fact that the original recipes pale in comparison to the doppelgangers. The Mexican BBQ burger with its Al Pastor pork patty and grilled pineapple slice sounded quite intriguing, but was more sloppy than flavorful, and the same could be said about the chili cheese burger. The gents running this place are making obvious effort to develop the restaurant’s own identity, surely in no small part due to the fact that every bit of press they’ve gotten has fingered them for swagger jacking L.A.’s alpha burger spot, but nonetheless. In an effort to clarify my opinion: I’m rooting for Fusion. The development of Highland Park’s dining scene is exciting, and Fusion Burgers not only meets a need but they take nothing away from Umami by being where they are and doing what they do. I hope they find their customer base and continue to expound upon the existing menu, but do not envy the task of having to figure out the most appropriate offering to follow spot on replicas of the best burgers around.

-Geoff Sawyer

 

 

On the heels of our previous post wherein the best burger truck of which I am aware was discussed, it seems only appropriate to pay homage to the guy who is credited with being the Godfather of all food trucks, Roy Choi. Roy’s claim to fame is being the chef behind the Kogi truck (which is actually now a small fleet), one of the first ever to extend beyond traditional Mexican fare, and THE first to take full advantage of social media to build a massive and ravenous fan-base. Many of you probably remember the 2 hour lines found outside that first Kogi truck immediately following a tweet announcing it’s location on any given night just a few years ago. The lengths to which people were going for Korean BBQ short rib tacos (which sounded to me like a dish with too much of an identity crisis to be particularly impressive) was staggering and still is, if you haven’t had one. However, after having tasted anything on the kogi menu, you will find yourself happily in that line every time the truck is near you. It is that good. There is nothing on the Kogi truck’s menu that I have not tried. They don’t really have a burger, but I’m going to still eventually find a way to review the truck. In any case, it stands to reason that the guy whose truck spawned and entire world of restaurants on wheels, also does a pretty good job with his places that have indoor plumbing.

A-Frame (one of 4 single location restaurants in which Roy Choi has a stake) is located on Washington Blvd. in Culver City, a bustling avenue by the measures of most, but inside is simple and inviting. Natural light, semi communal seating, and all wood everything make this place pretty and hip. If you’re an educated restaurant diner it will feel very curated, but you can’t say that they haven’t done a good job. Lunch, Dinner, an excellent Happy Hour menu, and a variety of inventive cocktails are all available, and the intention appears to be family style (meaning everyone shares everything) though the portions could just as easily serve as that of a normal restaurant. Choi made his name with street food, and while this menu does not fit that description, it can be described as familiar, done really well. I am a total sucker for chefs who take dishes that the average Joe would know, and jazz them up with complex flavors and high quality ingredients. Hence my love for bougie burgers, one of which A-Frame just so happens to have.

The “DOUBLE CHEESEBURGER” as it is referred to on the menu, is not as basic as the title suggests. Two medium cooked patties (I’m guessing 4-5 oz. each) are topped with tomato confit, pickled red onions, sharp cheddar, hot sauce, butter lettuce, and sesame mayo, all on a buttered brioche. It’s hearty, and boasts several loud flavors that play into one another delightfully. The onions are very sweet, but the tomatoes must have soaked up the hot sauce, being rather bright with spice (Serrano I am guessing). The sharp cheddar is extremely present, and if I could change anything about this burger it would have been a little less cheese. The sesame flavor of the mayo didn’t really cut the cheese ( ) but mayonnaise for texture is not ever lost on me. Any ingredient that makes a food more rich get s a green-light from this fat kid. Juicy, spicy, sharp, and heavy. I ate every bite and have hardly moved since. The sides I chose were heirloom pickles, and kitchen fries. The latter being thick cut Okinawan purple potatoes, yams, and Korean sweet potatoes dusted but not breaded before being fried, and served with Kimchi sour cream (awesome). The pickles are to share; an order for one person is a lot of pickle but you simply must get them. Cucumbers, baby carrots, potato, fennel and Asian pears comprised the assortment, and were served with blue cheese magic (that’s what I’m calling it anyway). This dip has a creamy blue cheese base, with fresh shallot, garlic, lots of olive oil, herbs and a healthy dollop of Kogi’s salsa verde. Towards the end of my meal, everything that entered my mouth was slathered in this fantastical sauce. Without A-Frame I may never have known that my favorite thing on earth is a pickled Asian pear with blue cheese magic. Claiming a condiment as the highlight of ones meal seems ridiculous when the food was all so great but I could literally drink this stuff. I want everything I eat to taste like it.

If you like Kogi at all go to A-Frame. If you’ve never had Kogi, go there, because you’ll like it. I’m proud of myself for not making this an open love letter of man-crush confession to Roy Choi, which was admittedly hard. He just does such a great job. Very creative interpretations of familiar foods provide a context wherein anyone can be a critic. If you’re going to position yourself in that situation, your food better be damn good. Roy’s is, particularly the burger at A-Frame.

-Geoff Sawyer

L.A. is fantastic. Chances are if you’re reading this you live here and you know that, but in case you don’t, take note. This town is the birthplace (or at least home to the rapid growth) of boatloads of awesome things including but not limited to: food trucks. At this point Los Angeles has seen its food truck babies off to college, and in virtually any major U.S. city you can now find restaurateurs who have noted the advantage of slinging meals on wheels to that of operating a brick and mortar location. To all you other cities, I’m happy for you, but there is no hope for dethroning Los Angeles as the Mecca of food trucks. They are EVERYWHERE, serving any and every type of food that one might desire, and many of them offer some of the best culinary experiences that 10 dollars will ever buy. I could start an entirely separate website dedicated only to the ones that serve tacos (and I might), but of those that serve burgers, one shines very brightly above the rest: Grill ‘Em All.

The Grill ‘Em All truck has been mentioned here at hood-burger before, as you may remember during the Oinkster’s Burger Week. Chefs Ryan Harkins and Matthew Chernus blew my mind with their special creation for that day, the Ultimeatum (which we discussed purely because of its ridiculousness [seriously, they put pop-rocks in it]), but also with the Bleu Cheer, which was not discussed in detail despite having permanently changed my opinion on what a burger needs in order to be staggeringly delicious. This duo of clever chefs/metal heads (in the sad case you’re too young or culturally limited to know this, the truck is a name play on Metallica’s first ever studio album) are very notorious for skillfully combining flavors you’d never expect to encounter on a burger.

The menu features 8 resident burgers, and usually a special or two. Two sides are also available, and if you get one it HAS to be the h-100’s, also known as hand rolled cheesy tots that obliterate Umami’s (which is a tall order). It’s $6 for 6 of them, which seems steep until you taste one. After that you’ll be stealing TV’s to fund the satiation of your tot habit. A couple bites of the “Dee Snyder” (peanutbutter, jelly, bacon, siracha) was all I needed. It’s interesting, and surprisingly tasty, but I wouldn’t want a whole one. The “Molly Hatchet” (seared fennel sausage gravy, bacon, maple syrup), was a delight, and probably the first time a burger has made me think breakfast. Had a fried egg topped that one I can imagine it getting a blue ribbon in the hangover cure category. Naturally though, the Bleu Cheer was what called me back to the truck.

The Bleu Cheer has a mere 3 ingredients aside from beef and a bun: blue cheese, cranberry gastrique, and Munchos. The blue cheese appears to be mixed with just enough mayonnaise that it stays put, the cranberry is not unlike the chunky version of a condiment often confined to thanksgiving day meals, and Munchos are a specific brand of plain potato chip. Theses dudes must have been high as hell to think of this, but it absolutely ranks among the best burgers that I have ever had in my LIFE. The sweet-tart cranberry and sharp cheese take turns assaulting the tastebuds, while the savory rich beef flavor is made unique by the extra salt and subtle crunch of chips (that you’d never pick out for exactly what they are if your eyes were closed). All Grill ‘Em All burgers are served on a dense and heavy (though still soft) bun, that I suspect has a good bit of egg in it. Forces combined, the Bleu Cheer boasts some of the loudest and most complimentary flavors found in the context of a burger. For burger fans with even the most remote inclination towards the sweet & savory combination, this one is definitely for you. All the burgers are incredibly rich; these guys use 75/25 ground beef AND they douse each patty with butter while it cooks. Predictably, it makes them delicious, but one would be wise to go with a group and try bites of several things over taking on a burger and tots with no backup.

For the culinarily adventurous burger fan, a trip to the Grill ‘Em All truck is an absolute must. These guys have really got a great thing going, and a cult following that only seems strange before you taste the food. If you need to track them down, check the website or follow them on Twitter, and if you want to see me stuffing my face with some preposterously constructed, rockstar named super burger, come to the gathering of food trucks in Highland park on a lucky Tuesday night . You could even try any number of other types of excellent truck food. But why would you do that?

-Geoff Sawyer.

All photos by Frederick Guerrero.